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Grief, Care, and Play: Theorizing the Affective Roots of the Social Self

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-1-80043-233-8, eISBN: 978-1-80043-232-1

ISSN: 0882-6145

Publication date: 20 October 2020


Purpose – In recent decades, some sociologists have turned to evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science to support, modify, and reconfigure existing social psychological theory. In this chapter, we build on this momentum by considering the relevance of current work in affective and cognitive neuroscience for understanding emotions and the self. Our principal aim is to enlarge the range of phenomena currently considered by sociologists who study emotion while showing how affective dynamics play an important role across most outcomes and processes of interest to social scientists.

Approach – We focus on the ways external social objects become essential to, and emotionally significant for, the self. To that end, we draw on ideas from phenomenology, pragmatism, classic symbolic interactionism, and dramaturgy. We show how basic affective systems graft on, build from, and extend current social psychological usages of emotions as well as the important sociological work being done on self, from both symbolic interactionist (SI) and identity theory (IT) perspectives. Finally, we turn to the promising directions in studying emotional biographies and various aspects related to embodiment.

Findings – Affective systems consist of brain networks whose connections deepen when activated, with interesting variations observable at the neural, individual, and social levels in which one or more system is more salient than others. Affective systems may come to saturate the construction and maintenance of an autobiography or collective biography, with consequences for self-projection, self-other attunement, and embodied action. In turning to embodiment, however, we consider aspects of cognitive neuroscience that can contribute to ongoing work in neurosociology building on symbolic interactionism.

Practical Implications – The focus on affective systems suggests new research agendas in leveraging emerging neurosociological methods in the laboratory, while pushing for novel, naturalistic observational strategies. The latter, in particular, may be key to deepening sociology's contributions to neuroscience, better positioned to bring the full disciplinary toolkit to bear on these questions.

Social Implications – In considering the embodied and projective aspects of the self, we show how work examining convergence and divergence between embodied and linguistic pathways opens up new insights into how the self develops or acquires behavioral repertoires. As such, this chapter points to the need for holistic approach to understanding the social actor and, thereby, how political, economic, historical, and cultural factors shape self as much as biogenetic and psychological.

Originality of the Chapter – Sociologists think of emotions as either dependent or intervening variables: (1) signaling identity or situational incongruence, (2) states to be managed, and (3) structural dimensions of superordinate–subordinate relationships. Our integration of the theory of affective systems emphasizes the causal primacy emotions have over other behavioral and cognitive functions, clarifying how they play into the construction and maintenance of self and social experience.



Abrutyn, S. and Lizardo, O. (2020), "Grief, Care, and Play: Theorizing the Affective Roots of the Social Self", Thye, S.R. and Lawler, E.J. (Ed.) Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 79-108.



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